The first trailer for the last Twilight movie is out and it looks… like you could replace any given scene from it with cuts of the trailers for any of the other movies. If the last film was any indication, it will probably be the worst of a terrible franchise, and then the healing can begin.
But, the question remains, what is Edward Cullen? That is to say: What does he represent?
I’ve heard quite a bit about what vampires represent, and there are a number of bloggers that talk about what Twilight represents. It’s not hard to find symbolic violence when the male lead watches the protagonist sleep, and it’s considered adorable.
And then there is the thing about vampires and sex. Everyone says that vampires are a metaphor for human sexuality, but usually when someone says it, they can’t tell me exactly how or why that is the case.
So, let’s delve into that for a second. What do vampires represent?
Early iterations of the vampire represent the “other” or stranger in society. Dracula and Nosferatu are stand-ins of misunderstood monsters with strange (and often ethnically stereotypical) habits. That was what vampires were about. They would stand around being ugly, and prey on our women in the night.
Then, Anne Rice created the Vampire Lestat in the 1970s, and vampires took a different and complimentary turn.
From Interview With A Vampire (or was The Vampire Lestat first?) to now, vampires have been super sexy, blood-drinking monsters. I don’t know if Ms. Rice was the first the sexualize vampires, but she was one of the most prominent. She was basically a J.K. Rowling that was interested in homosexuality. How did Rice’s re-imagining work? Well, if you have a few minutes, read the RPG Vampire: The Masquerade. It reads like an instruction manual on how to live as a misunderstood savage of the night.
The key change was that Anne Rice saw the vampire as allegory for the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. In her books, it was alluded to that male-on-male vampire affection was a normal part of being undead. And like tight-knit clubs and non-traditional gatherings of the era, it was secretive, exclusive, and misunderstood. And let’s not forget the part where vampires have to pull outsiders in to build a community.
Great, so vampires were a metaphor for sexual revolution, right?
Then, in the 1980s, things changed.
If the 1960s and 1970s saw wanton sexual gratification as part of counter-culture, then the ’80s saw it as an end unto itself. The whole point of being famous or cool in the ’80s was getting to party. If you don’t believe me, Google pretty much any big-hair metal band, and see how many original members made it to the ’90s.
Enter the modern vampire, whose hunger for blood is not unlike a more common kind of hunger people experience. This vampire is one whose primal power is connected to sating that hunger and finding someone to spend eternity with. Sounds a lot like young adulthood to me; like the new experiences that come from being young, strong, and free to do whatever you want.
So, what about Edward Cullen? He’s a vampire that doesn’t drink human blood, doesn’t have sex, and basically regrets all the qualities that make him a vampire.
Well, it seems to me that there are two roads to go, here. If vampirism is an allegory for sex, then Edward Cullen represents a complete rejection of sexual appetite. In essence, he is the opposite of Anne Rice’s Lestat, a counter to the free love and sexual inclusivity of the counter-culture era. Everywhere Lestat is wild and emotional, Edward is controlled and reserved. Everywhere that Lestat is free to survive, Edward is forced to spend all of his time stalking and manipulating Bella. Edward, like young men and women, is composed of the base desire but strives to be “above” it.
Then, there’s the other direction. At this point, it’s common knowledge that Stephenie Meyer, author of Twilight and its sequels, is a staunch Mormon. There’s nothing wrong with including religious themes in works of fiction. Actually, pretty much every work of fiction operates on assumptions about our values and how they can be gratified. In this case, Edward Cullen might better represent a push towards fantasy writing about angels. Edward Cullen is religious, he never sleeps, holds human life sacred, and believes that vampires occur in nature. And if the design is intelligent, then vampires must be part of the design.
Actually, ignoring the blood-lust, Edward Cullen is a superhero. He ranks pretty well on the Super Weight Scale, somewhere between Black Panther and the Incredible Hulk. In the Twilight books, vampires are super fast, super strong, and nigh invulnerable. The only thing that seems to hurt them is other supernatural beings. Basically, that makes him a religious super-hero… or an angel. The argument is buttressed by the fact that a whole genre of Twilight knock-offs chose to go the angel route, too.
For anyone that hasn’t read the books, they are actually pretty non-violent. There’s one fight in the entire first book, and, as a I recall, book two has a few terse arguments but no actual fighting. Book three has some kind of supernatural brawl at the end, and book four has no combat at all.
Even when there is fighting in the book, Bella is usually away or unconscious, making the reader absent as well.
My point is that violence is not the point of these books. Instead, the human drama of a girl falling in love with a vampire/angel is. It’s basically an user’s guide on how to have a perfect nuclear family where dad makes the tough decisions, and family is the primary social unit.
Is there something wrong with that? That depends on where you stand on having your boyfriend become your only reason for living.
So, what is Edward Cullen?
He’s dad. Not your dad or my dad, but that perfect 1950s dad who was head of the household and always did what was right, with nary a hint of the qualities that would betray him as an actual person.
I’m looking forward to this franchise being over.